In the pursuit of exceptional Thai, all roads, of course, eventually lead to Queens. Among the places that opened over the past year, we like Dee Thai Restaurant (46-17 Queens Blvd., Sunnyside; 718-786-3137), a double storefront on Queens Boulevard, which has a voluminous menu and a bar slinging tropical cocktails. Bring a crowd to share ka moo nam dang ($12), the mammoth stewed pork leg that comes with big spongy steamed buns to make sandwiches, somewhat akin to Momofuku’s lettuce-wrapped bo ssäm. The vibe at Dee is much slicker than that at Pa’Oun (53-21 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside; 718-205-6063), a lovable little joint that’s changed names and menus a couple times already this past year. In its current mango-walled, lime-boothed incarnation, it covers all the familiar bases, from satés and spring rolls to pick-your-protein curries. Steer your attention to the specials menu insert, though, for novelties like the young peppercorns on the vine that garnish a bony catfish curry ($8), and an herb-strewn, blackfish-flaked salad that, if it were offered at the aforementioned Rhong-Tiam, would easily be classified as “on fire” ($13).
In its hominess and the quirky appeal of its specials menu, Pa’Oun reminds us of Poodam’s (44-19 Broadway, Astoria; 718-278-3010), the last stop on the new-Queens-Thai tour. Its “signature” dishes reflect the kitchen’s Isaan, or E-san, bent, with a preponderance of salads and larbs that hail from Northeast Thailand. The flavors tend to be sour and strong, although the so-called Thai sour sausage ($8.95) wasn’t, but it was niftily garnished with deep-fried chiles and long beans. A minced-mackerel salad ($8.95) has a nice balance of flavors and a bit of heat, while the “hot morning glory” ($10.95), a heaping platter of crisp, crunchy sautéed stems and leaves, serves the same salubrious purpose as a bowl of pea shoots at a Chinese banquet.
Like everyone else, the Underground Gourmet brooded disconsolately over the long wait for the return of the Red Hook vendors to their sad, undernourished ball fields this year. Thanks to a spate of tasty new taquerías (and to a few vendors who temporarily relocated to the Brooklyn Flea), however, the task of filling the tortilla-wrapped void was less difficult and far more delicious than we’d expected.
Hecho en Dumbo (111 Front St., Dumbo; 718-855-5288), begun as a culinary art project of sorts, benefits from its ingredient-buying proximity to the fancy-foods purveyor Foragers Market and is where we repair for dainty, elegantly garnished tacos of locally raised, wine-braised steak or moist, meaty Berkshire pork (three for $8).
If Hecho, which operates evenings only in the flyer-bedecked confines of the Dumbo General Store, is meant to evoke the arty underclass of the D.F., then Pinché Taqueria (227 Mott St.; 212-625-0090), a no-frills Nolita nook, has more of a beachside San Diego vibe. Fittingly, its $3.75 fish taco, made from tender mahimahi lightly battered and tucked into a house-made corn tortilla, is its claim to fame, and comes adorned, tidily, with onions, cilantro, cabbage, guacamole, and salsa, with a proper flourish of radish and lime.
Although it will never achieve Sunset Park’s or Roosevelt Avenue’s tacos-per-square-foot density, Williamsburg has seen enough activity on the tortilla front this year to merit an expedition. Taco Santana (301 Keap St., Williamsburg; 718-388-8761), located in the shadow of the rumbling J/M/Z line, doesn’t look like much, but it’s already become a destination not only for its serious tacos, stuffed with the usual roasted and braised meats, but for its bounty of cheap, delicious snacks, like the sope sencillo, a thick, hand-patted round of corn masa warmed through and topped with refried beans, shredded lettuce, cheese, and cream ($2.50). Despite the bilingual menu, Spanish is the official language of Taco Santana, but a few short blocks away the comparatively gringofied Taco Bite (310 S. 4th St., Williamsburg; 718-302-1117) is thoroughly fluent in English, which your smiling waitress will use to gently push the cooling aguas frescas, in flavors like watermelon and hibiscus. Ideally she will also think to mention the daily specials, like a recent taco de chivo ($3.95), stuffed with some of the most succulent and flavorful braised goat meat around.
Goat is not on offer at Endless Summer Tacos (N. 6th St. at Bedford Ave., Williamsburg; 347-400-8128), but that’s not to say the mobile taquería, parked on Williamsburg’s main drag from 3 to 10 p.m. daily, doesn’t have specialties of its own. Where else are you likely to encounter a seitan taco ($3), carefully assembled by a hirsute hipster? If that prospect frightens you—the seitan, not the hipster—there’s always the classic beef, chicken, and pork varieties ($2.50), all surpassingly juicy, adeptly garnished with cilantro, onions, Cotija cheese, and crema, and cradled in a pair of soft corn tortillas.